Hovawart: Big Dogs that Deserve More Recognition

John Walton
Written by John Walton

Are you an experienced dog owner who’s looking for a different and amazing dog breed? The Hovawart dogs are one of the most undeservingly-unpopular large dog breeds out there, and they are definitely worth your attention if you’re interested in cool, large family dogs.

The Hovawart is a very old, German breed that’s been bred for guarding and herding. They are very people-friendly as they’ve spent millennia serving their owners. They are intelligent and loyal, as well as playful and fun. They really deserve to be just as popular as German Shepherds.

Below, we’ll go into detail over all of the Hovawart’s many great features. We’ll take a good look at their long and storied history; we’ll check out their amazing personality, as well as how well they fit with other pets and children.

Breed Characteristics

Hovawart puppy standing on grass

  • Adaptability: High

  • Trainability: Good; they naturally defer to humans that they consider “Alphas”

  • Health and Grooming: Good; they are very healthy, and they don’t have undercoats

  • All Around Friendliness: Good

  • Exercise Needs: Above Average

Dog Breed GroupHerding dogs
Height25 - 29 inches (63 cm – 74 cm)
Weight66 – 110 pounds (30 kg – 50 kg)
Lifespan10 – 14 years

The Hovawart is a very intelligent and playful dog that loves to be around people. A well-trained Hovawart is exceptionally loyal and is a great fit for families with kids or other pets.The Hovawart is a very special dog breed. On the outside, they look like big Labrador Retrievers, but they are much more than that. This is an old German breed that went nearly extinct after the Second World War, and it hasn’t gained a lot of popularity ever since. These dogs do deserve a lot more attention, however.

Hovawarts are also one of the healthiest dog breeds in the world, so if you’re looking for a large dog that checks pretty much all the boxes in terms of physicality and character, consider the Hovawart.

Main Highlights

Hovawart puppies sitting near the water

  • The first official mention of a Hovawart in German history surfaced in the 1200s, but the breed is even older than that.

  • The breed was nearly wiped out in World War II because these dogs were used as military dogs in the German army. The breed was barely saved after that by a group of dog-lovers crossbreeding with several other breeds.

  • Hovawarts are impressively healthy and rank as one of the healthiest dog breeds in the world.

  • Hovawarts require a firm and skilled hand when it comes to raising and training. A poorly trained Hovawart can attempt to lead his or her family, and that may lead to trouble. A well-trained Hovawart, on the other hand, is an exceptionally loyal, loving, gentle, and friendly dog for people, kids, and other pets alike.

Breed History

three Hovawarts standing on mountain background

The Hovawart is a breed with a long history. Its origins are in Germany, where it is a relatively popular breed even today, although these dogs are still not as popular as their exceptional qualities suggest they should be. Regardless, the Hovawart’s history can be traced back nearly a millennium to the dusky Harz and Black Forrest regions in Germany.

One of the first official documents of a Hovawart dog was from the early 1200s when a German castle by the name of Ordensritterburg was attacked by Slavic raiders. History says that the castle was successfully stormed and torched almost to the ground.

Almost all of the inhabitants of the castle were slaughtered with the exception of a select few that managed to escape, including the infant son of the castle lord. The story goes that the baby was saved by one of the lord’s Hovawart dogs, whom—while injured himself/herself—managed to drag the boy to a neighboring castle.

The infant’s name was Eike von Repkow, and he grew up to be one of the most notable figures in German law from that time.

Even though this is the earliest recording of Hovawart dogs in German history, the breed likely predates the 1200s. The exact time of its origins are unclear, but it was bred as a dedicated guard, herding, and service dog.

As such, the Hovawart takes a very special place in German culture and is right next to breeds such as the German Shepherds and the Newfoundlands in iconic status. Yet, this breed isn’t nearly as popular.

One of the main reasons for the drop in popularity of the Hovawart can be traced back to the Second World War. Due to their exceptional physical and mental qualities, Hovawart dogs were heavily used in the German military. As a result, thousands of them perished on the war front, and in just several years the breed went from being very popular to nearly extinct.

After the war, a dog breeder by the name of Otto Schramm and a group of other fellow Hovawart enthusiasts got together and worked hard to preserve and re-popularize the breed among the people. They formed a new Hovawart breeding club and put a lot of effort in restoring the breed to its former status.

The efforts were both successful and unsuccessful; the breed was saved, but it was overtaken in popularity by other German breeds like the German Shepherd.

The fact that the Hovawart was used in the Nazi military probably didn’t help its popularity, even though the dogs themselves are not to blame. Additionally, the Hovawart shares quite a bit of physical resemblance with the Labrador Retriever, which is one of the most popular breeds in the world, and this hasn’t helped the Hovawart either.

After the WWII, the Hovawart was restored with the help of some crossbreeding as well. The breed was crossed with German Shepherds, Newfoundlands, and likely, Leonbergers, Bernese Mountain Dog, and African Hunting Dog, to a smaller extent.

Today, this old and proud German breed is recognized by almost all international dog breeding organizations.


Hovawart standing in the field

The Hovawart is a big dog breed, with some organizations categorizing it even as a “giant dog breed.” Adult Hovawart dogs can range from 25 — 29 inches (63 cm – 74 cm) in height and can weigh between 66 and 110 pounds (30 kg – 50 kg). The official distinction of “big dog breeds” in term of weight is 50 – 90 pounds, so Hovawarts can reach up to 110 pounds.

Regarding their physical features, the Hovawarts look rather similar to Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers—so much so, that a lot of people mistake them for one of these popular breeds. The Hovawart, however, doesn’t have a direct connection with these dogs and the similarity is largely coincidental.

The Hovawart has a powerful, broad forehead and a well-formed skull. They have oval brown eyes and triangular ears that are set high and are wide apart. They have extraordinarily strong bodies and powerful, straight legs with round and compact feet.

Personality and Character

Hovawart lying on snow

Regarding their temperament and personality, Hovawart dogs are as appealing as they are in physical shape. Like most large and giant dogs, they are very calm in nature, provided that they’ve gotten enough exercise for the day.

See Also: Walking Your Dog: Teach Buster to Walk Politely on a Leash

They are tolerant and friendly to those they know and recognize, and they are very obedient and loyal to their families. It’s the Hovawart’s instinct to view their human as the “Alpha” of the house. A well-raised Hovawart can be a great pet for a family with children of all ages. Towards strangers, the Hovawart can be hostile or friendly, depending on how well he/she is trained.

Hovawarts have been bred as both herding and guard dogs, so even today they make great guard and watchdogs. If that is what you want from a Hovawart dog, you can easily train him or her for that.

Alternatively, you can also train your Hovawart to be friendly and tolerant towards strangers, just like any other dog. To do so, you’ll have to give them plenty of socialization from an early age.

Hovawarts are good-natured and playful; they are one of those breeds that retain their puppy-like playfulness in their adult life. They are also highly intelligent, so all training, tricks, and playtime can include plenty of mental stimulation.

As any highly intelligent and physically active dog breed, if the Hovawart is neglected, not exercised properly, not given enough attention, and left home alone for too long, they can get bored, anxious, and develop destructive behavior.

An ill-trained and poorly raised Hovawart can pose plenty of problems to their owner. If the Hovawart’s owner hasn’t successfully established themselves as the Alpha of the household, the Hovawart will likely attempt to take control and become aggressive.

With that in mind, Hovawarts are not ideal for first-time dog owners. This breed requires a firm and skillful owner. However, with such an owner, Hovawarts are one of the best big family dog breeds out there.

Health and Potential Problems

Hovawarts runing on snow

The Hovawart’s health is another one of the breed’s many strong points. These are very healthy dogs that don’t have any breed-specific health problems and are unlikely to develop most of the general canine health issues.

They aren’t immortal, of course—hip dysplasia can sometimes occur, an underactive thyroid is not uncommon among the European lines of the breed, and other general conditions and diseases are possible.

Overall, however, with a Hovawart you can rest assured that you are getting one of the healthiest dogs out there, especially if you’ve got your puppy from a reputable dog breeder.

See Also: Questions to Ask a Dog Breeder

Care Features

three golden-beige Hovawarts

Regarding the care they require, the main point you’ll need to pay attention to is the exercise. Hovawarts require a significant amount of daily exercise outdoors, and they are still relatively active indoors, especially if they have someone to play and have fun with. This makes the breed better suited for a house with a yard.

If you live in an apartment, don’t take a Hovawart dog, unless the apartment is quite large and spacious and there are big enough outdoor dog parks nearby. Proper physical exercise is needed both for the dog’s physical fitness, as well as for his or her mental stimulation. Daily walks, as well as outdoor playtime, are needed for this breed.

Aside from that, however, Hovawarts don’t really require very specific care. They are a very healthy breed. So long as you don’t neglect their diet, exercise, and protection, you shouldn’t have any health problems.

The basics still need to be covered, of course; you’ll need to brush your Hovawart’s coat several times per week to help him/her maintain good hair, and you’ll need to wash them regularly after a walk outside, as dirt can get stuck in their long hair.

Proper eye and ear maintenance should be kept to prevent infections. As with all other breeds, dental hygiene is also highly recommended to prevent future problems with the dog’s teeth. These dogs also have strong and fast-growing nails that need to be trimmed regularly to prevent overgrowth, splitting, and cracking.

See Also: How to Trim Dog Nails

Feeding Schedule

Hovawart's face

Hovawarts don’t have any specific dietary needs and are similar in their nutritional requirements to other large dog breeds. Feed your dog with a high-quality commercial or homemade dog food in proportions that are suited for your dog’s size and exercise habits. Don’t forget to consult with your veterinary specialist about the exact proportions and type of food he or she would recommend.

Regarding the feeding schedule itself, as with any other dog, two meals per day are a functional minimum, but three is ideal. Most owners feed their dogs twice per day, on 12-hour intervals and don’t switch to 3-times-per-day schedule because their work doesn’t allow it. Such a schedule doesn’t mean that you need to feed your dog on exactly 8-hour intervals, however.

You can adjust the feeding schedule on a 10-7-7 or 11-7-6 hour intervals to better suit your own work schedule. Whatever you do, however, don’t feed your dog only once per day.

Coat, Color, and Grooming

two Hovawart of different colors sitting together

Regarding their coats, Hovawarts can seem like they require a lot of care. And they do need their coats to be well taken care of. Brush your dog’s coat several times per week and wash your dog frequently to keep dirt from outdoor walks from accumulating.

Aside from that, Hovawarts don’t have an undercoat, so they don’t shed too much hair outside of their shedding season.

When well-taken care of, a Hovawart’s coat is long and shiny. Regarding color, a Hovawart’s coat can be black, brown, golden-beige, or any combination of the three.

Children and Other Pets Compatibility

A well-raised and well-socialized Hovawart can be a great companion for children and pets alike. Kids are an easy fit for a Hovawart, provided that the dog’s owner has established a good and stable hierarchy at home.

See Also: Basic Dog Obedience Training Techniques

Non-canine pets like cats and birds can also fit well in a household with a Hovawart if the dog has been well-socialized and properly introduced to them. The Hovawarts are not a hunting or a hound breed, and these dogs have a herding history, so they can work with all pets.

Other dogs can be somewhat tricky with a Hovawart if the dog’s owner doesn’t maintain good control. However, a well-trained and well-behaved Hovawart can live well with other dogs as well.

Wrap Up

Hovawart's head

The Hovawart holds a special place in the hearts of a lot of people for a reason: they have a long history with several very dire and painful moments in it.

They are not the most popular breed in the world right now, but they have all the physical and personality characteristics to deserve more attention. They are healthy, strong, beautiful, loyal, intelligent, and playful dogs that can make any family much happier as a whole.

Now that you know what a wonderful dog breed this is, would you like to adopt a Hovawart? Or perhaps you’re already living with one? If so, we’d like to hear all about what your dog is like! If you’d like to adopt a Hovawart puppy, check out our article on German dog names to find the perfect moniker for him/her.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.